Sometimes a particular statistic can cut through a lot. I live in rural Tanzania and so daily see how different people lives are than where I grew up (Perth, Western Australia) but it is sometimes not until you see things quantified just how different that is. (Note here that I write this post as a fully paid up member of the “Africa is not one big poverty bound place but rather a vibrant and hopeful continent with many story-lines running through” club. But still sometimes…). I recently came across Todd Moss’s excellent blog. Mr Moss writes about many things but is particularly exercised about energy poverty (similar to normal poverty, energy povery is basically not have enough power/electricity to service daily minimum requirements). Mr Moss was thinking about Power Africa whilst buying a new fridge and he noticed that his soon-to-be new normally sized family fridge consumed as much power by itself as six average Tanzanians! Or pictorially…
This is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. If Mr Moss’s house didn’t have one other single electric appliance (no lights, no kettle, no TV) his house alone would consume the same as six Tanzanians as they go about their lives in a full year. If Mr Moss only used his fridge one day a week (but still no lights or phone charger or electricity in shops he enters) he would be closer to parity with his Tanzanian friends.
But it gets a bit more ridiculous when you think about who is the “average” Tanzanian. To get the figure of 78kWh/year the International Energy Agency took the total electricity production of Tanzania and divided it by the number of people in Tanzania (45 million). But of course that includes me (not to mention industry and factories). And I have a fridge. From my house electricity meter I know that I use about 1000kWh/year. Plus I use electricity at my office (where I am typing this). Whilst I don’t live the high life (that can be hard to find in rural Tanzania) it is pretty clear that I am consuming way above the average for Tanzania. In fact my house consumes about as much as 13 other Tanzanians. So adding that to Mr Moss’s fridge (leaving aside his house lights or air conditioning or office electricity) pictorially it starts to look even more skewed…
So who is the “average” Tanzania? And how much energy do they actually consume? There are many ways to cut this apart so for simplicity I’ll not get too technical at all. Approximately 80% of Tanzanians live in rural areas where, due to many reasons, electricity use and supply are at its lowest. If all Tanzanians were given a number and then a number was chosen at random the corresponding Tanzanian would highly likely live in a rural area and highly likely use very much less than 78kWh/year – the Tanzanian average. None of Seed Change’s four villages (average population 7,000 people) have regular electricity (such as an electricity grid, there are a few diesel generators powering a few shops and phone charging stalls in marketplace) and I am yet to meet a Seed Change farmer who has any electricity in their house (such as a generator or solar panel). They don’t consume zero energy as most have mobile phones and take their maize to the village market for milling; but it clearly is not very much at all in a year.
So if we were to compare poor old Mr Moss’s fridge again (or for that matter an “average” Australian because if you choose an Australian at random it is highly likely they live in a house with a fridge – regardless of rural/urban location or annual income) to Seed Change’s farmers or Seed Change’s villages we would need to gather a lot more than six of the citizens of Mahembe, Nyamhoza, Kizenga, and Nkungwe (the Seed Change villages) to reach a balancing point.
But, you may ask, what does all this have to do with Seed Change and our palm trees? Well as Mr Moss points out in another one of his posts there are many ways of tackling energy poverty – solar lamps, micro-grids, huge power stations – but until there is a consumer base capable of affording electricity and energy, in whatever form that is supplied (wind, coal, off-grid solar, etc.) energy poverty will not be eliminated. When consumers have the means to consume, businesses and the private sector will work to fill in this service void (a few caveats about affordability etc. but the principle holds). Obviously if the 45 million Tanzanians consumed like the 23 million Australians do, the world would be in bit more trouble than it already is. But that is hardly the fault of the people of Nyamhoza and to artificially hold them in poverty is a pretty shabby way of dealing with climate change.
There has to be, and is, a middle ground where the citizens of the Tanzania and Australia can enjoy a reasonable standard of living without quickly ruining the climate – we (everyone) just need to be serious about finding and implementing it. Seed Change works to increase family income through their strengths and assets in agriculture – what they then spend their money on is up to them. Maybe one day those in Mahembe, Nyamhoza, Kizenga, and Nkungwe will join us in the luxury world of owning a fridge.